Zimbabwe matched their second-biggest winning margin in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier as they surged to the top of Group L by trouncing Swaziland 4-0 on Monday.
After an even first half in the top-of-the-table clash at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe took control as Swaziland tired three days after drawing at home to the same opposition.
Knowledge Musona calmly converted a 53rd-minute penalty and Costa Nhamoinesu of Czech club Sparta Prague nodded the second just before the hour.
Goals from a couple of South Africa-based attackers who came off the bench, Evans Rusike and Khama Billiat, completed an unexpectedly easy triumph.
The victory for Zimbabwe followed five consecutive draws in a group completed by Malawi and top seeds Guinea, who were both desperate for three points when they were due to meet in Blantyre yesterday.
Zimbabwe have eight points, Swaziland five and Malawi and Guinea two each, with only the group winners guaranteed a place at next year’s Cup of Nations in Gabon.
The Warriors’ biggest Cup of Nations qualifying victory was 5-0 against the Seychelles and they have beaten Swaziland, Eritrea and Malawi by four goals.
Swaziland, one of 16 nations never to feature at the biennial African tournament, suffered their third heaviest loss after a 6-0 defeat to Togo and a 5-0 loss to Zambia
“What a wonderful day for the nation,” Belgium-based striker Musona told reporters. “We won convincingly and are top of the table. Our objective now must be to secure maximum points when Malawi come to Harare during June. I believe our chances of reaching Gabon are good.”
Zimbabwe qualified for the African soccer showpiece in 2004 and 2006, winning once and losing twice in each tournament to make first-round exits.
Elsewhere, the Central African Republic, another of the 16 non-qualifiers, went top of Group B by coming from behind to edge Madagascar 2-1 in Bangui.
Malagasy Faneva Ima Randriatsima, who plays in the French second division, scored the only goal of the first half at the Stade Barthelemy Boganda.
Salif Keita leveled eight minutes after halftime and Moussa Limane got the winner midway through the second half.
The Central African Republic have seven points, Cup of Nations bronze medalists the Democratic Republic of the Congo six, Angola four and Madagascar two.
Mali replaced Benin as Group C leaders after a late Mustapha Yatabare goal delivered a second 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea in four days, this time away at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo.
While Mali (10 points) and Benin (eight) are set to fight for first place, Equatorial Guinea have just one point and cannot reach the finals after finishing fourth last year as hosts.
A Mohamed Zubya hat-trick helped Libya trounce Sao Tome and Principe 4-0 in a Group F match moved to Cairo because of post Muammar Qaddafi-era lawlessness in the North African nation.
Herve Renard-coached Morocco top the standings with nine points, top-ranked African team Cape Verde have six, while Libya and Sao Tome have three each.
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